Breaking free from the house condition mindset By Gianmarc Manzione



    Confessions of a Typical House Bowler Part I



    GianmarcManzione.jpgA bowler can come to harbor many delusions over the course of 20 years in house shot leagues, but few compare to the delusion that I myself once entertained as a member of the same league as the great Bo Burton at Stuart Lanes in Stuart, Fla. in the 2004-2005 season.

    Gianmarc Manzione is the Bowling News Manager for USBC’s Web site and a frequent contributor to bowling industry publications. Photos reprinted with permission from Bowling This Month.

    There, as I watched Bo rack up one 700 series after another and, on occasion, an 800 series, I almost believed that the discrepancy between the 214 average I myself recorded there and the 235 average that Burton maintained was merely a matter of 20 pins or so.

    After making the leap from that walled-up house shot to local sport shot leagues and tournaments, I very quickly realized that the discrepancy was not merely one of pins, but also of a wisdom that I could only hope to possess with some very hard work and skilled coaching.

    It was easy to commit such an error in judgment; I recorded my first sanctioned 300 game and season-long 200 average as a 14-year-old youth league bowler, logged a certified 834 series in 2004, and collected a closet-full of trophies and rings along the way.

    I also grew up at a time when bowling balls increasingly became the answer to any bowler's on-the-lane woes, gladly shelling out my saved-up lunch money for the latest irresistible release.

    From the Purple Sumo to the Purple Rhino Pro, the Pirhana C to the Pulse and, yes, even a short-lived stint with the bone-white XS (don't ask), there was no slump that could not find its end in the form of yet another new ball and its much-advertised technological wonders.

    I should have gotten a clue when a small voice somewhere in the back of my mind noted that while most bowlers in that league at Stuart Lanes swung the ball across many boards and watched it sail back from virtually anywhere to assail the pocket with all the power that today's technology contains,

    Bo Burton always went straight up the boards, rarely swinging his ball across more than maybe a width of a few boards and never, it seemed to me, missing the target he was looking at.

    As a right-handed bowler, I adopted a "stand left, throw right" mentality in 20 years of house-shot bowling that was my only way of attacking the lanes when I embraced the challenge of sport bowling.

    Now, rather than seeing the lane from side to side, I had to see it from front to back, straighten my game out so that I was throwing the ball straight up the boards, and develop the touch, timing and accuracy I would need to hit my target.

    The experience of seeing my breakpoint pushed much farther down the lane than I was used to on longer patterns such as the Shark and Scorpion revealed flaws in my game that house shots had masked for so long.

    As a player with a modest rev rate who thought nonetheless that I could "create area" on the lane, I now understood that I had not been "creating" anything on those house shots I had grown so accustomed to; I was instead the unquestioning beneficiary of a pattern that allowed me to swing the ball across many more boards than I had at my disposal on PBA shots.

    Billy Welu's admonishment that "trust is a must" never rang more true for me than it did when the knowledge that sending my ball a board or two right of target could send it several arrows right of my target further down the lane.

    Yes, strikes were now at a premium for the first time in many years for me, but the truly grueling test of my ability to perform on less forgiving patterns was spare shooting. This is the aspect of sport bowling which, for me at least, began to feel as if I was learning the sport from scratch all over again.

    Never before had I been forced to muster such an acute intensity of concentration merely to convert a single spare as I was on patterns such as the Scorpion or the Shark. No longer could I depend on a "wall" to guide my ball back toward the pin for another effortless mark.

    And that was exactly the point—how many "effortless" shots had been rewarded in my 20 years of bowling on "house" conditions? How many single-pin spares had I converted without so much as a second's thought? The answer was "too many to count," and only now, bowling for the first time on patterns that rewarded only the most quality shot I could throw, did I fully appreciate what it takes to throw a great shot.

    Now I had to perform a set of skills emblematic of a sport in which the boundary between competition and recreation—so blurred on house-shot leagues where 240-average bowlers and their $700 arsenals intensely run-out one 7-bagger after another as if they would do just the same at the U.S. Open—was so clearly defined as to be unmistakable.

    I had to make sure I kept my thumb behind the ball to convert 10-pin spares, and I had to battle my tendency to squeeze and aim rather than allowing the weight of my ball—not my muscle—to carry me from backswing through to release.

    I also for the first time had to know more about ball motion and layouts than I did as a "typical house bowler" who, like most typical house bowlers, knew only that he wanted the guy behind the drill press to drill up something that hooked a lot and hit like a tire iron.

    That is precisely what I got, too, in the form of a very aggressively drilled Virtual Gravity with a 4-inch pin and a giant leverage hole, and an Emerald Vibe also with a 4-inch pin—both drilled with the pin above the fingers.

    On house shots I was able to throw the Virtual Gravity anywhere within 10 boards of my target and expect a pocket shot; on sport shots even the most aggressive layouts, coverstocks or weight blocks were powerless to help me as I watched shots intended for the pocket sail embarrassingly right of my target for a blind date with the 6-pin.

    Now when I missed my target to the left my ball did the unthinkable—it missed the pocket to the left. Formerly my ball would obliterate the pocket despite my gross inaccuracy thanks to a trusty "hold" area in the middle of the lane.

    And when I missed my target to the right, well, I missed my target to the right instead of watching my ball bounce furiously off of a dry spot and, again, demolish the pocket.

    In 17 weeks of bowling on sport shots last fall, my highest game was a 199. I bowled that score on the Scorpion, a pattern on which, after two weeks of bleak failure, I discovered the glories of controlled ball speed.

    After slowing it up just a bit, I found my way to the pocket slightly more often than other weeks. My low game? 99. No, that is not a misprint. And yes, I really was averaging 214 on house shot leagues. Any questions?

    Now with my ego so firmly in check that I may never wrench it from its hiding place again and the memory of that 214-average bowler I thought I was so distant now as to be the dream of someone else's life,

    I make a concession that occurs to so few house bowlers thanks to a combination of forgiving lane patterns and seemingly limitless ball technology: I need a coach.

    Thankfully, I'm in luck: As an employee of the United States Bowling Congress, I happen to have access to some of the finest coaching in the country. One such coach, Bob Learn Jr., will be assisting me in my perilous journey to replace the "house hack" in me with someone who almost knows how to bowl.

    Judging from my humiliating performance in fall Sport Bowling leagues, I do not envy the man's task. But something tells me that a guy with four PBA titles and the all-time record for two, three and four-game high score on national TV (Erie, PA, 1996) is probably up to the task.

    Be sure to check back in, when I will report on my first couple of months working with Bob Learn Jr. to break free from the prison of the typical house bowler's mindset and maybe, someday, actually record competitive scores in the local sport leagues and tournaments I so blindly leapt into last year.